The Keys to Developing a Proficient Reader

Regardless of age, not everyone is an avid reader. Some people love to read and race through book after book. On the other hand, other people only read a handful of novels a year or none at all. This can be said for many children. 

When a child doesn’t like to read, sometimes it is because they haven’t found the right book yet, one they fall in love with and is a page-turner. However, finding a beloved book doesn’t solve all the problems. Building a confident and proficient reader comes from understanding a plethora of vocabulary words, knowing the sounds of individual letters, and reading fluently. The term, reading fluency, can be defined as “The ability to read with speed, accuracy, and proper expression.” Whether they are reading aloud or silently, this skill helps children understand what they are reading and know how to read the text. In return, these skills can help produce eager readers. But how does a child develop this knowledge? 

First, start by reading aloud to your child. Let them hear the rhythm, tone, and inflection of your voice. This habit gives them a chance to build up their reading skills because they are hearing a more seasoned reader pronouncing words and sounds. Audiobooks can also be a benefit for children and assist with building a child’s knowledge of rhythm and inflection. 

Next, work on phonemic awareness. Part of phonological awareness, phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate different sounds or phonemes. This means a reader is able to identify rhyming words, blend sounds, segment words and sentences into individual sounds, count the number of syllables, understand alliteration, and more. A good rule of thumb is to focus on letter sounds instead of letter names. Phonemic awareness gives children the skills needed to sound out unknown words and their individual syllables. It is all about the sounds incorporated in spoken words. 

This is different from phonics, which is understanding the relationship between sounds and written symbols. To help a child with phonics, you should start with phonemic awareness activities, since they involve oral words. An activity example would be to clap it out. When singing a song or nursery rhyme, clap out the different syllables of the words. Another activity is to create a mystery bag full of plastic letters. Place three or so plastic letters in the bag. These letters should be able to make easy to sound out words, such as cat or pat. Then, have your child pull out one letter at a time and discuss the letter’s sound. After that, try to build words with the letters. Phonics are more associated with written words, such as in books. As your child starts to develop strong phonemic awareness, then move onto strengthening their phonics skills. Both go hand in hand, and it is completely fine to work on both skills at the same time.  

As for vocabulary, it is important to create a sight word or core word wall that includes common words that are not spelled the way they sound and can’t be sounded out or decoded. The key is to not memorize sight words, but to help reinforce the sounds of those words. Another option is to create a sound word wall with repeated sounds that children sometimes have difficulty with. Be sure to personalize the word wall for your child and their reading needs. 

Lastly, practice critical reading or reading comprehension. While it is key to know sounds and inflection, it is also important to be able to understand what is going on in a book. After reading a section or page, discuss what happened with your child. Talk about the character, what they look like, what they did, the setting, and plot elements. Help your child make a picture in their head from the words on the page. If needed, your child could also draw a picture on paper of the descriptions of a text to help them better comprehend. 

It is never too early to start reading with your child. Their ears and brains will absorb many things and will enjoy looking at the book’s pictures. Over time, reading skills will be developed and before you know it your child will be a proficient reader. Don’t know where to start? Begin with a fun and engaging book, whether it is a board book, picture book, or chapter book (also make the text age-appropriate), choose something that will draw your child in. Once they are hooked, you never know where they’ll end up in their reading journey. 


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